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Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft

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Volume 36, Issue 2


Explaining alienability contrasts in adpossessive constructions: Predictability vs. iconicity

Martin Haspelmath
Published Online: 2017-11-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zfs-2017-0009


This paper argues that alienability contrasts in adnominal possessive constructions should not be explained by iconicity of distance, but by predictability due to the higher relative frequency of possessed occurrences of inalienable nouns. While it is true that when there is an alienability split, the alienable construction typically has an additional marker which often separates the possessor from the possessed noun, the broader generalization is that additional marking is found when the possessive relationship is less predictable. This generalization also extends to cases of antipossessive marking and impossessibility. The diachronic mechanisms responsible for the development of alienability contrasts are differential reduction and differential inhibition of a new construction.

Keywords: inalienable possession; coding asymmetry; functional explanation; iconicity

About the article

Published Online: 2017-11-02

Published in Print: 2017-11-27

Citation Information: Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft, Volume 36, Issue 2, Pages 193–231, ISSN (Online) 1613-3706, ISSN (Print) 0721-9067, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/zfs-2017-0009.

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©2017 Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/Boston. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License. BY 4.0

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